Management Information Systems
Chapter 9 – Systems Development and Project Management
Denver International Airport
One good way to learn how to develop successful systems is to review past failures. One of the most infamous system failures is Denver International Airport’s (DIA) baggage system. When the automatic baggage system design for DIA was introduced, it was hailed as the savior of modern airport design. The design relied on a network of 300 computers to route bags and 4,000 card to carry luggage across 21 miles of track. Laser scanners were to read bar-coded luggage tags, while advanced scanners tracked the movement of toboggan-like baggage carts.
When DIA finally opened its doors for reporters to witness its revolutionary baggage handling system, the scene was rather unpleasant. Bags were chewed up, lost, and misrouted in what has since become a legendary systems nightmare.
One of the biggest mistakes made in the baggage handling system fiasco was that not enough time was allowed to properly develop the system. In the beginning of the project, DIA assumed it was the responsibility of individual airlines to find their own way of moving the baggage from the plane to the baggage claim area. The automated baggage system was not involved in the initial planning of the DIA project. By the time the DIA developers decided to create an integrated baggage system, the time frame for designing and implementing such a complex and huge system was not possible.
Another common mistake that occurred during the project was that the airlines kept changing their business requirements. This caused numerous issues, including the implementation of power supplies that were not properly updated for the revised system design, which caused overloaded motors and mechanical failures. Besides the power supply design problem, the optical sensors did not read bar codes correctly, causing issues with baggage routing.
Finally, BAE, the company that designed and implemented the automated baggage system for DIA, had never created a baggage system of this size before. BAE had created a similar system in an airport in Munich, Germany, where the scope was much smaller. Essentially, the baggage system has an inadequate IT infrastructure because it was designed for a much smaller system.
DIA simply could not open without a functional baggage system so the city had no choice but to delay the opening date for more than 16 months, costing taxpayers roughly $1 million per day, which totaled around $500 million.
- One problem with DIA’s baggage system was inadequate testing. Why is testing important to a project’s success? Why do so many projects decide to skip testing?
- How could more time spent in the analysis and design phase have saved Colorado taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars?
- Why couldn’t BAE take existing IT infrastructure and simply increase its scale and expect it to work?